By Jabin Ahmed
I am not a teacher, nor a scholar. All that I have written is a personal realization based off of experience and readings. If anything sounds incorrect, wrong or incomplete than that is my shortcoming and if anything you read is beneficial than know it came from Allah. My knowledge and intellect falls very short to the topic I chose to write about, and I apologize for not doing a better job. However I am very hopeful that this article will help readers understand what a Responding Heart is and how we can achieve that state of being.
At some point in my life I thought that if I continued to immerse myself in gaining knowledge then it would only increase my Iman, and therefore make me invincible against shaitan. But through trial and error I’ve come to realize that acquiring a lot of knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will be more practicing. Knowledge will strengthen your comprehension and increase how much you know, but whether you apply this information after understanding it, is reliant on your heart. Throughout the years I have been slowly improving my tajweed, prayer and general knowledge of Islamic history, fiqh and hadith. Although these are only baby steps towards acquiring actual wisdom and knowledge—I often ask, should they not have transformed my Iman? Should they not have increased my implementation of the knowledge that I acquire? You see I assumed that my Iman would increase without effort if I just transitioned myself from a state of limited knowledge to a state of steady but increasing knowledge. I assumed that I could earn points by just learning how to play the game, knowing the rules, and understanding its origin. Although all of that will assist me in earning points, in the end I am still required to actually play the game in order to win. I had a desire to reach a state of higher Iman and understanding, but I failed to understand the very aspect and essence of Iman. I approached faith as if it were a thing that existed on a rigid spectrum and either increased or decreased.. It wasn’t until very recently that I understood how complex yet simple Iman is. I used all of my worldly assessment and planning tools to try and improve something that had no equation. I had to dig beneath what I thought I knew about faith. This eagerness to understand led me to realize that the state of being immersed in the remembrance of Allah swt is an unexplainable phenomenon.
To further understand this phenomenon I chose to review: A Commentary on Ibn Taymiyyah’s Essay on the Heart—Annotated Translation by Dr. Bilal Philips (link in reference). The commentary emphasizes how in various parts of the Qur’an and scripture the heart is constantly referred to as the place where faith, God-Consciousness, and righteousness resides.1 The Prophet (saw) also said: "Islam is done externally and Iman (faith) is in the heart." This quote struck me as extremely powerful. Many of us assume that the external appearance is a representation of the internal state, but subhanAllah only He (swt) knows what is in our hearts. We assume that the sister who wears hijab, and the brother with the thickest beard are the most valid representation of faith and Iman. Very rarely do our minds comprehend that the outer appearance may not represent what actually exists within. A sister who struggles to wear hijab, a brother who struggles to read Qur’an and offer the daily prayers at the Masjid may have a connection to Allah like no other—a connection far too complex for us to understand. We as humans have become so obsessed with tangible and visual representations of everything. As a result, in order to feed that obsession we’ve started labeling characteristics, behaviors, and choices as a means to represent different “levels of Iman”. But does Iman have levels? Can it be measured? Or is it a state of being? There are several definitions of what Iman is, and to put it simply its belief in Allah (swt), it is a greater connection with your Creator, and having a strong relationship with your lord.
How does one create a stronger connection to Allah? How does one get closer to the Creator? Is it through prayer? Is it through reading Qur’an, or is it through constant attainment of Islamic education? A few years ago I would have thought that increased exposure to knowledge of the faith could only increase faith. Throughout the years I’ve met individuals who were raised in beautiful Muslim communities with plenty of Islamic education and resources but chose to turn away from this faith completely. This shifted my entire understanding of “how to gain Iman”. Simply growing up in a Muslim environment is not enough for a person to truly taste and understand the sweetness of Iman. Some people grow up in families that discourage them from wearing Hijab, they are frowned upon and criticized for the length of their beard—but that doesn’t prevent them from diving deeper, in fact it encourages them to try harder and become more patient.
Although our environment, knowledge, and understanding are factors that impact our state of Iman, the heart is a key role player. When we want to be closer to Allah we don’t have to look for him in big masjids and conferences. We have to look much closer, inside of our bodies and within our souls. The connection to Allah is there within us. We can pray, read Qur’an, and continue to learn but none of it will be understood or applied until it enters into the depths of our souls. Finding this oneness is extremely important or else all efforts feel extremely empty and unfulfilling. Allah (swt) says :
لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا
“Having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not.” (7:179)
Meaning we could have all the essential organs and practices in place to enable us to see and feel the warmth of Iman, but if our hearts are spiritually closed off and our eyes are spiritually blinded it will be of no use. So how does one identify a closed heart? It's simple, the answer lies through questioning. When we question whether or not our prayers were genuine or when we question the amount of concentration in our ibaadah we are already entering a state of Iman that constantly checks in on our efforts. When we are constantly battling, and working to do more, and trying to feel more, we’re entering a state of Iman that isn’t satisfied with small efforts. In fact the very moment we start to think that we’re doing a lot—it's the very moment we’ve stopped doing anything at all. There is no such thing as enough, there is no such thing as a lot, we have to understand that all that we do for our entire lives will fall short when we compare it to the blessings that Allah has given us. Thus, constantly moving is the only way to ensure that we’re actually going forward. I’m not saying our ibaadah and efforts are meaningless, I’m saying that we should never feel like we’ve done enough to even deserve the smallest amount of Allah’s mercy. Iman is humility, it is the strong desire to want to worship more regardless of how much we are already doing at the moment. Iman is being unsatisfied with what we’ve invested in our relationship with Allah. It is the belief that Allah deserves worship that is far better than what our minds can comprehend. Iman isn’t just reading and completing the Qur’an it is contemplating over the beauty of each ayah, each story, and each miracle. It is questioning whether or not the ibadah was done correctly and wholeheartedly. Iman is a constant spiral movement that breaths in and out while it slowly moves towards a higher state of consciousness.
Philips, Abu. “A Commentary on Ibn Taymiyyah’s Essay on the Heart”. Original Publication August 2003. https://kalamullah.com/Books/Essay%20on%20the%20Heart.pdf. (accessed April 27, 2018).